Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

In The link between charter school expansion and increasing segregation, Iris C. Rotberg highlights that problems exist in both re-segregation of schools in the U.S. and the rise of charter schools as separate and interrelated forces.

Schools in the U.S. are re-segregating, regardless of type—public, private, and charter.

And charter schools are not creating the education reform charter advocates claim, with one failure of the charter movement being segregating students by race and class.

Thus, it is important to focus on the evidence that shows the need to reconsider how to address segregation and the flawed support continuing for expanding charter schools.

Let me offer below a reader for such evidence:

Some key points from Rotberg include the following:

#1. There is a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income….

#2. The risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program….

#3. Even beyond race, ethnicity, and income, school choice programs result in increased segregation for special education and language-minority students, as well as in increased segregation of students based on religion and culture….

I am not under the illusion that by modifying federal policy on charter schools we would solve the basic problem of segregation. But we could at least eliminate one factor exacerbating it: the federal pressure on states and school districts to proliferate charter schools, even in situations that might lend themselves to increased segregation. Instead of serving as a cheerleader for charter schools, the federal government might instead support diversity in schools and, at the same time, publicize the risks of increased student stratification.

Even apart from the negative effect of increased segregation, justifying federal advocacy of charter school expansion is difficult when there’s no evidence that charter schools, on average, are academically superior to traditional public schools or even that they can be more innovative given the Common Core State Standards and the testing associated with them.

Pulling a Greene: Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform [Redux]

Jay P. Greene, Ph.D., is Endowed Chair and Head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

The Department of Education Reform is heavily funded by Walton money, and it is important to understand that the Walton family (of Walmart) are strong school choice advocates.

In 2011, not long after I published a book challenging school choice through a critical perspective, I warned about the dangers of advocacy for choice in many forms, about the distorting impact of that advocacy on education reform, concluding:

Once again, the caution of evidence - advocacy is the enemy of transparency and truth.

Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.

Education “miracles” do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem – these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.

Think tanks have agendas, and when the advocacy commitments of those think tanks supersede the pursuit of knowledge, those think tanks lose credibility. Increasingly, market forces have impinged upon the wall between advocacy and the pursuit of knowledge in university-based research, once the domain of higher education. The Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, now, functions more like a think tank (pro school choice) than a graduate department dedicated to dispassionate research.

And thus, as chair and head of the department we have Greene, lamenting the negative consequences of high-stakes testing on the prospects of expanding the school choice agenda:

First, testing requirements hurt choice because test results fail to capture most of the benefits produced by choice schools.

What is stunning (not) is that Greene is now raising the exact same caution public school advocates have been acknowledging since the early 1980s when the high-stakes accountability movement built on standards and testing began: In fact, yes, high-stakes testing data are incredibly limited in what they reveal and that data also mask many outstanding effects of all types of schooling while perpetuating some of the worst aspects of education practices reflecting social inequities (since high-stakes standardized tests remain biased by race, class, and gender).

What we have in this blog from Greene, then, is “pulling a Greene”: Raising a red flag only when a policy or practice impacts negatively the agenda for which you advocate, but not when the policy or practice impacts negatively the agenda of others.

It is no conspiracy theory to recognize that the entire accountability era begun under Ronald Reagan was in part designed to discredit public education so that the U.S. public would (finally) be more open to school choice. Gerald Holton (2003) and Gerald Bracey (2003) have exposed the advocacy aspect of “A Nation at Risk,” documenting the direct connection between accountability of public schools and seeking to expand school choice. As Holton revealed:

We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education.

Now that bit of political manipulation has come home to roost, and thus we have Greene lamenting the negative consequences of high-stakes testing.

Let me add, here, then, that this is just more of the same. School choice advocacy has been a moving target since the 1980s. School choice, now focused mostly on charter schools, has offered a disorienting array of claimed outcomes and spoken to a scattering of nearly every potential stakeholder imaginable—as I detailed, also in 2011, and now include below.

Shifting Talking Points among School Choice Advocates

Few metaphors could be more appropriate than the “invisible hand” for free market forces, and the constantly shifting school choice movement over the past thirty years (paralleling the accountability era spurred by “A Nation at Risk”) reflects how choice advocates are driven by ideology and faith in market forces regardless of evidence.

Lubienski and Weitzel (2008) examine school choice advocacy and offer this key point:

This is a notable possibility in view of the claim that voucher programs have not been shown to harm academic achievement. In fact, the “do no harm” promise is far removed from earlier claims about the potential for vouchers to improve student performance. Over a decade into this reform, some advocates are moving away from optimistic claims about school choice achievement outcomes, and many are instead highlighting parent satisfaction as evidence of success. (p. 484)

In the 1980s and 1990s, before a substantial body of research had emerged, vouchers were heralded as the panacea for a failing public school system [a claim made more recognizable by the growing accountability movement based on high-stakes testing]. Once the shine wore off those lofty claims—since research shows little to no academic gains driven by any choice initiatives—school choice advocates began to change claims and approaches, attempting to stay at least one step ahead of the evidence throughout the process.

The evolution of the school choice advocacy talking points has included the following, in roughly the order in which they surfaced in the advocacy reports by think tanks and the media from the 1980s until 2011:

• Public education is a failure because it is a monopoly, and market forces can and will eradicate the problems posed by a monopoly. Vouchers are the solution to public education failures because they will force public schools to compete with superior private schools.

(Subsequently, vouchers proved to be unpopular with the public, and private schools were revealed to be little different in effectiveness than public schools when student populations were taken into account.) [1]

• No vouchers, then let’s use tuition tax credits. . .

• How about public school choice then. . .?

(See evidence from Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Florida—where widespread choice and choice tied to accountability have neither raised achievement nor actually spurred any real competition.) [2]

• Then, how about charter schools. . .and let’s be sure to address children and families in poverty. . .and parents really are happy when given choice. . .and choice might raise graduation rates. . .

• But vouchers/choice “do no harm”! [3]

• Why would anyone want to deny choice to people in poverty, the same choice that middle- and upper-class people have?

And that is where we stand today in the school choice advocacy discourse. The newest talking points are “do no harm” and that people apposing vouchers want to deny choice to people living in poverty.

And throughout the school choice debate, ironically, the choice advocates shift back and forth about the rigor of research—think tank reports that are pro-choice and the leading school choice researchers tend to avoid peer-review and rail against peer-reviews (usually charging that the reviews are ideological and driven by their funding) while simultaneously using terms such as “objective,” “empirical,” and “econometrics” to give their reports and arguments the appearance of rigor.

But, if anyone makes any effort to scratch beneath the surface of school choice advocacy reports, she/he will find some telling details:

In education, readers should beware of research emanating from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Mackinac Center, the Center for Education Reform, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Paul Peterson group at Harvard, and, soon, the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Arkansas is home to the Walton family, and much Wal-Mart money has already made its way to the University of Arkansas, $300 million in 2002 alone. The new department, to be headed by Jay P. Greene, currently at the Manhattan Institute, will no doubt benefit from the Walton presence. The family’s largesse was estimated to approach $1 billion per year (Hopkins 2004), and before his death in an airplane crash, John Walton was perhaps the nation’s most energetic advocate of school vouchers. (Bracey, 2006, p. xvi) [4]

School choice may, in fact, hold some promises for reforming education since “choice” is central to human agency and empowerment. But the school choice movement and its advocates are the least likely avenues for us ever realizing what school choice has to offer because the advocates are primarily driven by ideology and funding coming from sources that have intentions that have little to do with universal public education for free and empowered people.

And the growing evidence that corporate charter schools as the latest choice mechanism are causing harm—in terms of segregation and stratification of student populations—is cause for alarm for all people along the spectrum of school reform and school choice. [5]

If a school choice advocate sticks to the talking-points script and will not acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that out-of-school factors determine student outcomes, that evidence is mounting that choice stratifies schools, and that evidence onhow school is delivered (public, private, charter) is mixed and similar among all types of schooling, then that advocate isn’t worth our time and isn’t contributing to a vibrant and open debate that could help move us toward school reform that benefits each student and our larger society.

As a follow up to the points above made in 2011, the entire charter school movement as a mask for the school choice agenda also fails when it begins to seek different conditions for those charter schools than those under which public schools must function. Greene’s point about standardized tests applies to all types of schooling, but to suggest standardized tests are a problem only if they impede the spread of choice is as tone deaf as calling for charter schools because schools need less bureaucracy.

So two concluding points:

  1. If standardized test data are harmful for determining educational quality, student achievement, and teacher impact, let’s end the inordinate weight of standardized testing, period. And let’s acknowledge that the past thirty years of high-stakes accountability has misrepresented the quality of public schools and likely inaccurately increased public support for school choice.
  2. If charter schools are a compelling option because they allow schools relief from burdensome bureaucracy, just relieve all public schools from that bureaucracy and then no need for the charter school shuffle.

Neither of the above will be embraced, however, by school choice advocates because they are not seeking education reform; they are seeking a privatized education system.

So expect many more shifting claims from school choice advocates, and at least a few more of those advocates pulling a Greene here and there.

[1] Braun, H., Jenkins, F., & Grigg, W. (2006, July). Comparing private schools and public schools using hierarchical linear modeling. National Center for Educational Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from http://nces.ed.gov/… Lubienski, C., & Lubienski, S. T. (2006). Charter, private, public schools and academic achievement: New evidence from the NAEP mathematics data. Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site: http://www.ncspe.org/… Wenglinsky, H. (2007, October). Are private high schools better academically than public high schools? Retrieved 28 December 2008 from the Center for Education Policy Web site: http://www.cep-dc.org/…

[2] Dodenhoff, D. (2007, October). Fixing the Milwaukee public schools: The limits of parent-driven reform. Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, 20(8). Thiensville, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Website: http://www.wpri.org/… Witte, J. F., Carlson, D. E., & Lavery, L. (2008, July). Moving on: Why students move between districts under open enrollment. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site: http://www.ncspe.org/… Failed promises: Assessing charter schools in Twin Cities. (2008, November). Minneapolis, MN: Institute on Race and Poverty. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from:http://www.irpumn.org/… Belfield, C. R. (2006, January). The evidence of education vouchers: An application to the Cleveland scholarship and tutoring program. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site: http://www.ncspe.org/… Bell, C. A. (2005, October). All choices created equal?: How good parents select “failing” schools. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Web site:http://www.ncspe.org/…

[3] Lubienski, C., & Weitzel, P. (2008). The effects of vouchers and private schools in improving academic achievement: A critique of advocacy research. Brigham Young University Law Review (2), 447-485. Retrieved 26 April 2011 fromhttp://lawreview.byu.edu/…

[4] Bracey, G. W. (2006). Reading educational research: How to avoid getting statistically snookered. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

[5] Fuller, E. (2011, April 25). Characteristics of students enrolling in high-performing charter high schools. A “Fuller” Look at Education Issues [blog]. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://fullerlook.wordpress.com/… Miron, G., Urschel, J. L., Mathis, W, J., & Tornquist, E. (2010). Schools without Diversity: Education management organizations, charter schools and the demographic stratification of the American school system. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://epicpolicy.org/… Miron, G., Urschel, J. L., & Saxton, N. (2011, March). What makes KIPP work?: A study of student characteristics, attrition, and school finance. Teachers College, Columbia University. National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. Retrieved 26 April 2011 fromhttp://www.ncspe.org/…  Miron, G. & Urschel, J.L. (2010). Equal or fair? A study of revenues and expenditure in American charter schools. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://epicpolicy.org/… Frankenberg, E., Siegel-Hawley, G., Wang, J. (2011) Choice without equity: Charter school segregation. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 19(1). Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://epaa.asu.edu/… Baker, B.D. & Ferris, R. (2011). Adding up the spending: Fiscal disparities and philanthropy among New York City charter schools. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/…

References

Bracey, G. W. (2003). April foolishness: The 20th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 84 (8), 616-621.

Holton, G. (2003, April 25). An insider’s view of “A Nation at Risk” and why it still matters. The Chronicle Review, 49(33), B13.

Anatomy of Charter School Advocacy

When I wrote Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform in 2011, the acceleration of charter school advocacy hadn’t quite gathered the momentum that we are experiencing at the end of 2013. If charter school advocacy has proven anything, however, it is that my basic premise has come to fruition:

Once again, the caution of evidence - advocacy is the enemy of transparency and truth.

Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.

Education “miracles” do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem – these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.

Data-driven analysis confronting charter school advocacy, then, tends to spur fairly predictable responses from those advocates. For example, when a charter advocacy group in South Carolina called for greater funding and support for charter schools, I offered an analysis from two years of data on charter and public schools, showing that charter schools tended to perform about the same and worse than public schools.

My resulting commentary refuting further investment in charter schools in SC has prompted a response that represents everything that is wrong with charter school advocacy.

Wayne Brazell, Superintendent, S.C. Public Charter School District, offers a predictable response, starting with an unrelated swipe at me:

It’s interesting that an education professor working at a private college where the tuition exceeds $40,000 per year has such insight into what is best for public-school parents, as Paul Thomas claims in his Dec. 12 guest column, “Charter schools not a smart investment for S.C.” Charter schools provide a valuable public-school option and operate with fewer resources, maximizing taxpayer investment and increasing innovative practices.

It seems more interesting to highlight that where I teach and what the tuition is at my university have nothing to do with the evidence I offered, but that this response is written by the Superintendent of S.C. Public Charter School District should raise at least some red flags about advocacy trumping a credible look at the evidence.

Next, Brazell offers a cursory nod to the main bulk of evidence in my analysis and then completely misses the point that when similar charter and public schools are compared, charter schools tend to be no different and worse:

While state report cards are an important measure to consider, schools also are rated on federal accountability measures. Eight charter schools received a perfect score of 100 in 2013, while 19 received A’s. With this measure, charters do get similar results to traditional public schools, but use fewer resources in the process.

Notably, Brazell does not refute my analysis, and offers only data from a different type of report card used in SC—not a comparison of like-schools and not a recognition that many public schools also excel under that report card system.

In fact, the SC Public Charter School District for which Brazell is superintendent received a C on that same report card. Wonder why he doesn’t mention that?

But let’s take the logic of this argument and apply it to traditional public schools (TPS): If some TPS achieved perfect scores and A’s on this report card, doesn’t that mean we should draw the same implied conclusion Brazell makes about charter schools? Well, they do, but Brazell makes no mention of that.

In fact, Brazell’s advocacy of charter schools depends on smoke and mirrors, lots of implications. As I have noted, implications and faith in market forces simply aren’t enough.

Instead of advocacy, we need evidence. So please consider what we know about some of the realities connected with charter schools that advocates refuse to acknowledge:

  • Is “charterness” (something unique about charter schools) the key to providing better schools for all? No, see Di Carlo.
  • Do charter schools do the same or more with less when compared to TPS? No, see Baker here and here.
  • Are charter schools part of the rise of re-segregation by class and race in public education? Yes, see here, here, and here. And market forces appear behind that rise.

The evidence is clear: Charter school advocacy is failing the education reform debate in much the same way charter schools are failing students, public education, and the U.S.

Should SC Increase Charter School Investment?

Charter school advocates are calling for more investment from South Carolina, according to Jamie Self at The State (Columbia, SC):

South Carolina’s public charter schools struggle to find and pay for space, and often end up without access to kitchens, libraries, or places for kids to play – a problem the S.C. General Assembly needs to address, according to a new report.

The challenges that the state’s 49 brick-and-mortar public charter schools face are outlined in a new report, published with help from the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina by the Charter School Facilities Initiative, a partnership of federal and state charter school organizations. 

Charter schools in SC, however, are proving to match the growing body of evidence that charter schools produce similar patterns of measurable student outcomes when compared to public schools and that charter schools share and even increase the rising re-segregation of schools in the U.S.

Should SC increase charter school investment? The short answer is, No. But to answer this question fully a few factors should be considered.

First, charter school advocacy is itself a problem; as I have explained before:

Like medicine, then, education and education reform will continue to fail if placed inside the corrosive dynamics of market forces. Instead, the reform of education must include the expertise of educators who are not bound to advocating for customers, but encouraged, rewarded and praised for offering the public the transparent truth about what faces us and what outcomes are the result of any and every endeavor to provide children the opportunity to learn as a member of a free and empowered people.

Education “miracles” do not exist and market forces are neither perfect nor universal silver bullets for any problem – these are conclusions made when we are free of the limitations of advocacy and dedicated to the truth, even when it challenges our beliefs.

Next, if charter schools are a fiscally responsible investment, they should be producing outcomes that distinguish themselves from traditional public schools. However, analyses from two years of report cards for charter schools in SC reveal the clear picture that more investment is not justified (see below for complete analysis of both years’ comparisons):

  • Using 2011 SC state repost cards and the metric “Schools with Students Like Ours,” charter schools performed as follows: 3/53 ABOVE Typical, 17/53 Typical, and 33/53 BELOW Typical.
  • Using 2013 SC state repost cards and the metric “Schools with Students Like Ours,” charter schools performed as follows: ABOVE Typical 2/52, Typical 20/52, BELOW Typical 22/52.

In other words, almost all charter schools in SC perform about the same or worse than the public schools they are intended to either motivate through market forces to perform better or offer parents better options; neither is likely occurring.

SC should not invest further in charter schools, but should begin decreasing charters while also seeking ways to fund fully and equitably our community public schools—while also abandoning wasteful investments in new standards and testing.

CHARTER SCHOOLS ANALYSIS AND LINKS TO DATA

How Do Charter Schools Compare to “Schools with Students Like Ours” in South Carolina?

2013 — SC Charter School Report Card Performance Compared to “Schools with Students Like Ours”

Above Typical 2/52, Typical 20/52, Below Typical 22/52 (N/A 6/52, * 2)

SOUTH CAROLINA CHARTER SCHOOLS (COMPOSITE) 2012-2013 

2013 State Report Card 

2013 SC CHARTER SCHOOL > DISTRICT

Overall Weighted Points Total 75.5
Overall Grade Conversion C
Points Total – Elementary Grades 76.6
Points Total – Middle Grades 76.8
Points Total – High School Grades 70.5

 

Charter School or District

ABOVE Typical

Typical

BELOW Typical

SC Public Charter School District

 

 

X

CAPE ROMAIN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CHARTER SCHOOL
Summary   Full

 

X

 

EAST POINT ACADEMY
Summary   Full

 

X

 

IMAGINE COLUMBIA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY CHARTER
Summary   Full

 

 

X

LAKE CITY COLLEGE PREP ACADEMY
Summary   Full

 

 

X

Royal Live Oak Academy of the Arts and Sciences Charter
Summary   Full

 

 

X

SC CONNECTIONS ACADEMY
Summary   Full

 

 

X

SC VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOL
Summary   Full

 

 

X

SOUTH CAROLINA CALVERT ACADEMY
Summary   Full

 

 

X

SPARTANBURG CHARTER SCHOOL
Summary   Full

 

X

 

YORK PREPARATORY ACADEMY
Summary   Full

 

 

X

CALHOUN FALLS CHARTER
Summary    Full

 

X

 

PALMETTO SCHOLARS ACADEMY
Summary    Full

 

X

 

Youth Leadership Academy Charter
Summary    Full

 

X

 

Fox Creek High School
Summary    Full

 

X

 

PALMETTO STATE E-CADEMY
Summary    Full

 

 

X

PROVOST ACADEMY SOUTH CAROLINA
Summary    Full

 

 

X

SC WHITMORE SCHOOL
Summary    Full

 

N/A

 

Academy for Teaching and Learning

 

 

X

Academy of Hope

 

X

 

Aiken Performing Arts Academy

 

 

X

Anderson Five Charter School

 

N/A

 

Brashier Middle College

X

 

 

Bridgewater Academy

 

X

 

Carolina School for Inquiry

 

X

 

Charleston Charter School for Math & Science

 

 

X

Charleston Development Academy

 

X

 

Children’s Attention Home

 

*

 

CHOiCES

 

X

 

Coastal Montessori

 

 

X

Discovery School of Lancaster County

 

 

X

East Montessori Charter School

 

X

 

Legacy Charter School

 

 

X

James Island Charter High School

 

X

 

Langston Charter Middle School

 

X

 

LEAD Academy

X

 

 

Lloyd Kennedy Charter School

 

 

X

Meyer Center for Special Children

 

X

 

Midland Valley Preparatory School

 

 

X

Midlands Math and Business Academy

 

*

 

Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five Charter High School for Health Professions

 

 

X

Orange Grove Elementary Charter School

 

X

 

Palmetto Academy of Learning and Success

 

X

 

Palmetto Academy of MotorSports

 

N/A

 

Palmetto Youth Academy

 

X

 

Pattison’s Academy for Comprehensive Education

 

N/A

 

Phoenix Charter High School

 

 

X

Richland One Middle College

 

N/A

 

Richland Two Charter High School

 

N/A

 

Riverview Charter School

 

X

 

The Apple Charter School

 

 

X

Youth Academy Charter School

 

 

X

* no data found

2011 — SC Charter School Report Card Performance Compared to “Schools with Students Like Ours”

Using the South Carolina School Report Card system and the state Poverty Index, the tables below list charter schools within the SC Public School Charter District and additional charter schools within public school districts to identify how charter schools in SC compare with “Schools with Students Like Ours” (a metric established by the SC Department of Education, see notes).

Conclusions

• Charter schools in SC have produced outcomes below and occasionally typical of outcomes of public schools; thus, claims of exceptional outcomes for charter schools in SC are unsupported by the data (3/53 ABOVE Typical, 17/53 Typical, and 33/53 BELOW Typical).

• Charter schools in SC vary widely in student populations relative to the Poverty Index; but high-poverty charter schools appear to function below typical compared to high-poverty public schools, and thus, offer rare examples of meeting the needs of high-poverty students superior to outcomes found in public schools.

• Charter school advocacy in SC should be measured against the available data when that advocacy makes claims of exceptional outcomes or outcomes superior to similar public schools.

• Student populations served, stratification of students, enrollment, attrition, teacher status, and teacher turnover remain areas of concern for current charter schools and considerations of expanding charter schools in the state.

SC Poverty Index 2011

2012 ESEA – SC Public School Charter District

Overall Weighted Points Total 69.7
Overall Grade Conversion D
Points Total – Elementary Grades 80.6
Points Total – Middle Grades 79.1
Points Total – High School Grades 36.7

SC Public School Charter District – EAA School Report Cards 2011

District Summary    District Full

Elementary

Poverty Index

Relative to “Schools with Students Like Ours” (1)

LAKE CITY COLLEGE PREP ACADEMYAt-Risk/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

96.63

BELOW Typical

87/161 Average

MARY L DINKINS CHARTERAt-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary   Full

100

BELOW Typical

93/115 Average, Below Average

SC CONNECTIONS ACADEMYAverage/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

64.7

BELOW Typical

68/83 Excellent, Good

SC VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOLAverage/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

73.22

BELOW Typical

68/108 Excellent, Good

SOUTH CAROLINA CALVERT ACADEMYBelow Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

55.72

BELOW Typical

54/60 Excellent, Good

SPARTANBURG CHARTER SCHOOLGood/Good, AYP NM
Summary   Full

55.21

BELOW Typical

33/58 Excellent

YORK PREPARATORY ACADEMYGood/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

29.56

BELOW Typical

18/19 Excellent

Middle

Poverty Index

Relative to “Schools with Students Like Ours” (2)

CALHOUN FALLS CHARTERBelow Average/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

89.34

BELOW Typical

30/58 Average

LAKE CITY COLLEGE PREP ACADEMYAt-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary    Full

96.63

BELOW Typical

37/62 Average, Below Average

MARY L DINKINS CHARTERAt-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary    Full

100

BELOW Typical

18/37 Average, Below Average

PALMETTO SCHOLARS ACADEMYExcellent/Good, AYP M
Summary    Full

31.82

Typical

10/11 Excellent

SC CONNECTIONS ACADEMYAverage/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

64.7

BELOW Typical

27/48 Excellent, Good

SC VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOLAverage/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

73.22

Typical

37/57 Average

SOUTH CAROLINA CALVERT ACADEMYBelow Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

55.72

BELOW Typical

26/34 Excellent, Good

YORK PREPARATORY ACADEMYGood/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

29.56

BELOW Typical

10/11 Excellent

High

Poverty Index

Relative to “Schools with Students Like Ours” (3)

CALHOUN FALLS CHARTERAverage/N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

89.34

Typical

18/42 Average

MARY L DINKINS CHARTERN/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

100

N/A

PALMETTO STATE E-CADEMYAt-Risk/N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

65.06

BELOW Typical

38/40 Excellent, Good, Average

PROVOST ACADEMY SOUTH CAROLINAN/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

71.82

N/A

SC CONNECTIONS ACADEMYBelow Average/N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

64.7

BELOW Typical

38/40 Excellent, Good, Average

SC VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOLAt-Risk/N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

73.22

BELOW Typical

23/40 Average

SC Charter Schools (outside SCPCSD)

School

Poverty Index

Relative to “Schools with Students Like Ours” (1, 2, 3)

FOX CREEK HIGHExcellent/Good, AYP M
Summary    Full

45.07

Typical

17/21 Excellent

CHARTER ACADEMY FOR TEACHING AND LEARNINGAverage/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

57.41

BELOW Typical

30/38 Excellent, Good

BRIDGEWATER ACADEMY CHARTERAverage/Excellent, AYP NM
Summary   Full

74.36

BELOW Typical

65/110 Excellent, Good

PALMETTO ACADEMY OF LEARNING (E)Excellent/Average, AYP M
Summary   Full

57.25

Typical

30/65 Excellent

PALMETTO ACADEMY OF LEARNING (M)Good/Average, AYP M
Summary    Full

57.25

Typical

16/37 Good

AIKEN PERFORMING ARTS CHARTERAt-Risk/At-Risk, AYP M
Summary    Full

76.27

BELOW Typical

23/33 Average

KENNEDY/LLOYD CHARTER SCHOOLAt-Risk/Below Average, AYP M
Summary    Full

93.75

BELOW Typical

51/72 Average, Below Average

MIDLAND VALLEY CHARTER PREPARATORY SCHOOLBelow Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

79.63

BELOW Typical

43/59 Average

BRASHIER MIDDLE COLLEGE CHARTERExcellent/Good, AYP M
Summary    Full

18.86

Typical

5/5 Excellent

LANGSTON CHARTER MIDDLE SCHOOLExcellent/Excellent, AYP M
Summary    Full

16.15

Typical

4/4 Excellent

LEAD ACADEMYBelow Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

88.16

BELOW Typical

97/129 Average

MEYER CENTER FOR SPECIAL CHILDRENExcellent/Good, AYP M
Summary    Full

94

Typical

8/10 Excellent

CAROLINA SCHOOL FOR INQUIRYBelow Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

85.22

BELOW Typical

89/124 Average

LEGACY CHARTER (ELEM)Below Average/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary   Full

87.31

BELOW Typical

97/125 Average

LEGACY CHARTER (MID)At-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary    Full

87.31

BELOW Typical

46/49 Average, Below Average

GREENVILLE TECHNICAL CHARTERExcellent/Excellent, AYP M
Summary    Full

27.49

Typical

5/5 Excellent

GREER MIDDLE COLLEGE CHARTER SCHOOLExcellent/N/A, AYP M
Summary    Full

21.48

Typical

5/5 Excellent

RICHLAND 1 CHARTER MIDDLE COLLEGEN/A
Summary    Full

78.87

N/A

MIDLANDS MATH & BUSINESS CHARTER ACADEMY (E)Below Average/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary   Full

94.19

BELOW Typical

110/191 Average

MIDLANDS MATH & BUSINESS CHARTER ACADEMY (M)Below Average/Below Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

94.19

Typical

31/71 Below Average

CHARLESTON CHARTER SCHOOL FOR MATH AND SCIENCE (H)N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

57.91

N/A

CHARLESTON CHARTER SCHOOL FOR MATH AND SCIENCE (M)Average/Average, AYP NM
Summary    Full

57.91

BELOW Typical

33/41 Excellent, Good

CHARLESTON DEVELOPMENTAL ACADEMY CHARTER (E)Good/Excellent, AYP M
Summary   Full

91.96

ABOVE Typical

104/166 Average

CHARLESTON DEVELOPMENTAL ACADEMY CHARTER (M)Average/Average, AYP M
Summary    Full

91.96

ABOVE Typical

43/70 Below Average, At-Risk

GREG MATHIS CHARTERAt-Risk/Below Average, N/A
Summary    Full

98.94

Typical

6/14 At-Risk

JAMES ISLAND CHARTER HIGHExcellent/Excellent, AYP NM
Summary    Full

47.22

Typical

18/26 Excellent

EAST COOPER MONTESSORI CHARTER (E)Excellent/Excellent, AYP M
Summary   Full

13.54

Typical

7/7 Excellent

EAST COOPER MONTESSORI CHARTER (M)Excellent/Excellent, AYP M
Summary    Full

13.54

Typical

3/3 Excellent

ORANGE GROVE CHARTERExcellent/Excellent, AYP NM
Summary   Full

61.26

ABOVE Typical

32/68 Good

PATTISONS ACADEMY (E)N/A, AYP NM
Summary   Full

100

N/A

PATTISONS ACADEMY (M)N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

100

N/A

THE APPLE CHARTER SCHOOLAt-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary   Full

95.73

BELOW Typical

99/187 Average

CHILDREN’S ATTENTION CHARTER (E)At-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary   Full

96.77

BELOW Typical

87/171 Average

CHILDREN’S ATTENTION CHARTER (M)N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

96.77

N/A

CHOICES (M)At-Risk/At-Risk, AYP NM
Summary    Full

92.73

BELOW Typical

47/65 Average, Below Average

CHOICES (H)
N/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

92.73

N/A

DISCOVERY CHARTER OF LANCASTERExcellent/Excellent, AYP M
Summary   Full

39.81

Typical

23/25 Excellent

PHOENIX CHARTER HIGH SCHOOLAt-Risk/Excellent, N/A
Summary    Full

87.5

BELOW Typical

19/40 Average

PALMETTO YOUTH ACADEMYBelow Average/Good, AYP M
Summary   Full

93.22

BELOW Typical

109/182 Average

RICHLAND TWO CHARTER HIGHN/A, AYP NM
Summary    Full

N/A

N/A

RIVERVIEW CHARTER SCHOOLGood/Good, AYP M
Summary   Full

35.31

BELOW Typical

22/23 Excellent

YOUTH ACADEMY CHARTERN/A, AYP NMSummary

Full

100

N/A

(1) Ratings are calculated with data available by 11/09/2011.  Schools with Students Like Ours are Elementary Schools with Poverty Indices of no more than 5% above or below the index for this school.

(2) Ratings are calculated with data available by 11/09/2011.  Schools with Students Like Ours are Middle Schools with Poverty Indices of no more than 5% above or below the index for this school.

(3) Ratings are calculated with data available by 11/09/2011.  Schools with Students Like Ours are High Schools with Poverty Indices of no more than 5% above or below the index for this school.

On Children and Kindness: A Principled Rejection of “No Excuses”

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

—Thomas Jefferson

The Furman University spring commencement in 2008 was mostly overshadowed by two events—the speech presented by President George W. Bush and the protest and controversy surrounding that speech in the weeks leading up to and during the speech.

A concurrent controversy to Bush’s commencement address centered on the large number of faculty at the center of the protest, a protest named “We Object.” South Carolina is a traditional and deeply conservative state, and Furman tends to have a distinct contrast between the relatively conservative student body and the moderate/leaning left faculty. The Bush protest of 2008 exaggerated that divide—notably in the reaction of the Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow (CSTB) organization and an Op-Ed in The Greenville News by two Furman professors opposing the protesting faculty.

The conservative faculty view expressed in the Op-Ed is important because it characterized the protesting faculty as post-modern, the implication being that protesting faculty held liberal/left views that were grounded in relativism (a common use of “post-modern” in public discourse). In other words, the implication was that protesting faculty were motivated by an absence of principle, or at least only relative principle.

The irony here is that the protesting faculty (among whom I was one, despite my having not yet achieved tenure) tended to reject both the post-modern label and post-modernism; in fact, our protests were deeply principled.

Having been born and raised in SC and having now lived my entire life and taught for over thirty years in my home state, I am an anomaly in both my broad ideology (I lean Marxist—although it is more complicated than that) and my principles (I am deeply principled in ways that contrast with the dogma and tradition of my treasured South).

My focal point during the Bush debate and protest (my name was frequently in news accounts and in rebuttals from CSTB) was an exaggerated but representative example of the tension that my ideology and principles create in my daily work at Furman, particularly in the classroom.

For example, I often teach an introductory education course, and one topic we address in that course very much parallels the more publicized conflicts surrounding Bush’s appearance at the 2008 graduation—corporal punishment.

When the topic comes up, students tend to support corporal punishment, reflecting the general embracing of the practice throughout the South. Many students are quick to qualify their support for corporal punishment with the “spare the rod, spoil the child” justification of their Christian faith.

I often explain to my students that I was spanked as a child in the 1960s, but that I had not spanked my daughter (who often announced to her friends that I didn’t spank, including a story of the one time I did when she ran away from us in the mall as a small child). I then add that a considerable body of research [1]  has shown that corporal punishment has overwhelming negative consequences and only one so-called positive outcome (immediate compliance).

My principled stance against corporal punishment creates noticeable tension with students’ dogmatic faith in corporal punishment. This same dynamic occurs when I confront the public and political support for grade retention, which I regularly refute—again based on a substantial body of evidence (which parallels in many ways the research on corporal punishment in that both practices have some quick and apparently positive outcomes but many long-term negative consequences).

As the Jefferson quote implores, in my positions on corporal punishment and grade retention, I stand like a rock.

And this helps explain my principled stance rejecting “no excuses” ideologies and practices as well as deficit views of children, race, and class.

Some Issues Beyond Debate

Three ideologies are powerful and foundational in both traditional educational practices and recent education reform agendas over the past thirty years—paternalism, “no excuses” ideology, and deficit perspectives (of children and impoverished people).

Traditional schooling is typified by behaviorism: in the grading, in the classroom management. Punishing and rewarding are types of paternalism and are justified by the belief that children are lacking something that some authority must provide.

Ironically, education reform committed to accountability driven by standards and high-stakes testing is really no reform at all since many of the reform policies are simply exaggerated versions of traditional practices—both of which are grounded in paternalism, “no excuses” ideology, and deficit perspectives.

“No excuses” practices (represented by KIPP charter schools, but certainly not exclusive to that chain or charter schools since the ideology permeates almost all schooling to some degree) match social norms in the U.S., and in fact, aren’t very controversial. Yet, since “no excuses” policies are part of the dominant reform agenda, advocates feel compelled to justify those policies and practices.

To be honest, critics of “no excuses” ideology are in the minority and tend to be powerless. Nonetheless, Alexandra Boyd, Robert Maranto and Caleb Rose have published an article in Education Next designed to refute “no excuses” critics and to justify KIPP charters narrowly and “no excuses” ideology more broadly.

While I will not elaborate here on this, advocates of deficit-based strategies aimed at children in poverty and popularized by Ruby Payne tend to make parallel arguments as those endorsing “no excuses” schools and practices.

Corporal punishment, grade retention, paternalism, “no excuses” ideologies, and deficit perspectives of children, class, and race—all of these ideologies and concurrent practices conform to social norms of the U.S. (politicians and the public support them overwhelmingly) and tend to be discredited by large and robust research bases. All of these ideologies and practices also produce the appearance of effectiveness in the short term but create many long-term negative outcomes.

Paternalism, “no excuses” ideologies, and deficit perspectives reflect and perpetuate racism, classism, and sexism—even though many of the people who are and would be negatively impacted by these beliefs are often actively participating in and supporting institutions, policies, and practices driven by all three.

History has revealed numerous examples of people in reduced circumstances behaving in ways that were counter to their and other people’s freedom and equity. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale remains to me one of the best literary cautionary tales of that disturbing and complicated reality; Atwood dramatizes the historical reality of women contributing to the oppression of women. As a powerful work of scholarship, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow details well that a culture of mass incarceration (an era paralleling the accountability era in education) has reduced the lives of many minorities living in poverty to the point that they appear to support practices that, in fact, as Alexander describes, constitute the new Jim Crow—as I have explained while connecting mass incarceration with education reform:

This last point – that African Americans seem to support both the war on crime and “no excuses” charter schools – presents the most problematic aspect of charges that mass incarceration and education reform are ultimately racist, significant contributions to the New Jim Crow.

For example, Carr reports that African American parents not only choose “no excuses” charter schools in New Orleans, but also actively cheer and encourage the authoritarian policies voiced by the schools’ administrators. But Alexander states, “Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people ‘support’ mass incarceration or ‘get-tough’ policies” because “if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be ‘more prisons’” (p. 210).

New Orleans serves as a stark example of how this dynamic works in education reform: Given the choice between segregated, underfunded and deteriorating public schools and “no excuses” charters – and not the choice of the school environments and offerings found in many elite private schools – the predictable answer is “no excuses” charters.

And all of this, I suppose, may have been more than many people wanted to read for me to reach my big point, which is this:

There is no evidence that will convince me to reverse my stance against “no excuses” practices.

There is no evidence that will convince me to reverse my stance against deficit perspectives.

There is no evidence that will convince me to reverse my stance against paternalism.

There is no evidence that will convince me to reverse my stance against corporal punishment.

There is no evidence that will convince me to reverse my stance against grade retention.

Period.

Especially when it concerns children, the ends can never justify the means so I couldn’t care less about test scores at KIPP schools.

Can we debate these? Sure, but if you want to debate me in order to change my mind, you would be wasting your time.

I am approaching 53, and I remain a work in progress. There is much I do not know, and there remains much that I am deeply conflicted about. But there is one thing that I know deep into my bones—children are wonderful and precious.

Children are wonderful and precious and there isn’t a damned thing you can show me or argue that can justify anything that is unkind to a child.

Not one damn thing.

For the adults who disagree with me and believe I am wrong or fool-headed, I love you too. But if you force me to choose, you lose.

Few things fill me with confidence in my principles like the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut and I see the same world, have the same regrets about that would, but also share the same idealistic hope. In the beginning of his Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut blends confessional memoir with his fiction as he explains how the novel came to have the full title Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.

While visiting a fellow veteran of WWII and his friend Bernard V. O’Hare, Vonnegut is confronted by O’Hare’s wife Mary, who is angry about Vonnegut’s considering writing a novel about his experience at the firebombing of Dresden:

“You were just babies then!” [Mary] said.

“What?” I said.

“You were just babies in the war—like the ones upstairs!”

I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood. (p. 14)

And from this Vonnegut promised Mary not to glorify war and to add the extended title.

There is something sacred about childhood, about innocence. Something sacred that deserves and should inspire all humans toward kindness.

I see little evidence we are inspired, but I remain committed to the possibility of the kindness school—and even a kind society populated by kind people.

Nothing there to debate.

For Further Reading

anyone lived in a pretty how town, e. e. cummings

[1] See Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline? (APA); and Spanking and Child Development Across the First Decade of Life.

The U.S. Formula for Children and the Choices We Refuse to Make

The formula for children in the U.S. can be summed up in one word, I think: “harsh.” And the response we should have to this formula is “inexcusable.”

Let’s consider the U.S. formula for children:

If children in the U.S. can survive the gauntlet that is the national formula for children, as young adults they can look forward to crushing debt to attend college so that they can enter a nearly non-existent workforce.

But there is a caveat to this formula: The U.S. formula for children above is for “other people’s children,” that new majority in U.S. public schools and those children living in homes of the working poor, the working class, and the dwindling middle class.

Children of the privileged are exempt.

And what are the choices we refuse to make?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (UK) has released “Does money affect children’s outcomes?”—based in part on “many studies…from the US.” The key points include:

  • This review identified 34 studies with strong evidence about whether money affects children’s outcomes. Children in lower-income families have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics.
  • The evidence was strongest for cognitive development and school achievement, followed by social-behavioural development. Income also affects outcomes indirectly impacting on children, including maternal mental health, parenting and home environment.
  • The impact of increases in income on cognitive development appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children’s well-being.
  • A given sum of money makes significantly more difference to children in low-income than better-off households (but still helps better-off children).
  • Money in early childhood makes most difference to cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference to social and behavioural outcomes.
  • Longer-term poverty affects children’s outcomes more severely than short-term poverty. Although many studies were from the US, the mechanisms through which money appears to affect children’s outcomes, including parental stress, anxiety and material deprivation, are equally relevant in the UK.

The third bullet point should not be ignored: The key to eradicating poverty and the negative consequences of poverty for children is to address poverty directly in the lives of children—money—and to address inequity directly in the education of children.

There is no either/or, then, in the education reform debate. It is imperative that we do both.

Ultimately, the U.S. formula for children is based on flawed assumptions. Before we can change that formula, we must change our views of poverty as well as people and children trapped in poverty.

Scarcity and abundance are powerful forces; in the U.S., both are allowed to exist as an ugly game of chance.

The choice of abundance for all is there to be embraced, however, if compassion and community are genuinely a part of the American character.

Disaster Capitalism and Charter Schools: Revisiting New Orleans Post-Katrina

Andrea Gabor examines the rise of charter schools in post-Katrina New Orleans, raising an important question in the subhead: “Are New Orleans’s schools a model for the nation—or a cautionary tale?”

Gabor ends the piece suggesting caution:

But even for students who don’t fall through the cracks or get expelled, it bears asking: have the pressures and incentive systems surrounding charter schools taken public education in the direction we want it to go? Anthony Recasner, a partner in founding New Orleans Charter Middle School and FirstLine, is visibly torn between his hopes for the New Orleans charter experiment and his disappointment in the distance that remains between today’s no-excuses charter-school culture and the movement’s progressive roots. “Education should be a higher-order exploration,” says Recasner, a child psychologist who left FirstLine in 2011 to become CEO of Agenda for Children, a children’s advocacy organization. The typical charter school in New Orleans “is not sustainable for the adults, not fun for kids,” says Recasner, who is one of the few African-American charter leaders in New Orleans; his own experience as a poor child raised by a single parent mirrors that of most students in the charter schools. “Is that really,” he asks, “what we want for the nation’s poor children?”

In my review of Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope for The Wilson Quarterly, I found Carr’s work to suggest, also, that New Orleans was yet more evidence of the failures of charter schools, “no excuses” ideology, and Teach for America. Below is my expanded review:

Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children is a story of place.

Readers see first a map of eastern New Orleans, the 9th and 7th Wards, Treme, French Quarter, and Algiers—situating the three schools at the center of the story, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Renaissance, SciAcademy, and O. Perry Walker.

As a Southerner, I thought of Yoknapatawpha County maps in William Faulkner’s novels. That connection predicted accurately the narrative Carr shapes about the intersection of place, race, class, education, and America’s pervasive market ideology. New Orleans public schools have a long history of failure connected to the city’s high poverty rates and racial diversity, but post-Katrina New Orleans has experienced a second flood, a school reform surge characterized by charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), and education reformers from outside the city and the South:

But in 2007…Paul Vallas, the new superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District [RSD], helped bring hundreds of young educators to the region. Vallas arrived in New Orleans in 2007 after a decade spent leading the Chicago and Philadelphia schools….Vallas brought the mind-set of a frenetic businessman to the New Orleans superintendency.

An education journalist for over a decade (The Chronicle of Higher EducationNew Orleans Times-Picayune), Carr weaves a vivid story of twenty-first century education reform, examining the influx of charter schools in New Orleans as options designed to address high-poverty and minority students. The stories are drawn from principal Mary Laurie, student Geraldlynn Stewart, and TFA recruit and Harvard graduate Aidan Kelly in the wake of Katrina recovery efforts from 2010 through 2012.

The place, New Orleans, is Carr’s touchstone for six parts, each divided among The Family (Geraldlyn’s family), The Teacher (Kelly), and The Principal (Laurie). Geraldlyn expresses ambivalent attitudes about her KIPP education as it contrasts with her mother’s efforts to provide Geraldlyn a better life. Kelly personifies the “missionary zeal” of TFA recruits, but also offers insight into those ideals as they clash with the reality of day-to-day schooling. Dedicated to her city, Laurie was a successful public school educator before Katrina, but after the hurricane, the RSD laid off public school teachers and dissolved the teachers unions; charter schools gave Laurie a new start, but not without complications.

Carr crafts some of the best education reform journalism to date, presenting a critical eye on charter schools (specifically KIPP), TFA, and a market-based model supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Charter schools and TFA represent reform policies that view public school traditions, teacher certification and teachers unions, as root causes of poor academic outcomes. To eradicate those in-school problems, choice and competition are embraced as the primary tools for reform. Carr’s examination, however, calls these claims and solutions into question.

Education journalism often offers slogans such as “miracle schools” and “grit” (Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Whatever It Takes, David Kirp’s Improbable Scholars, and Jay Matthews’s Work Hard. Be Nice.). But Carr allows KIPP and TFA advocates to speak for themselves. For example, Kelly reveals his unwavering idealism as it intersects the no-excuses ideology of TFA and KIPP, organizations that attract and encourage privileged young people who believe they can change the world through their own determination.

Instead of silver bullets, Carr presents a nuanced analysis: “A trap confronted schools: If they took the students with the most intense needs, their numbers might suffer. But the state would shut them down if their numbers suffered too much and for too long. Then who would take the neediest?” That analysis is driven by stories. At the end of Part II, Rebirth, Carr quotes Laurie, principal of O. Perry Walker High School:

There are so many stories, she said one afternoon, sitting on a bench under Walker’s breezeway. “I worry that they will get lost, that there’s no one to tell them. My big fear is that all folks will remember is that when Katrina hit, people had to ride in on their white horses and save the children of New Orleans.” She shuddered at the thought.

Yet, stories are often ignored in twenty-first century education after the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since NCLB, school and teacher accountability has increased, based primarily on high-stakes tests and judged against data such as the achievement gap. Later, a comment from Laurie stands at the center of the education reform movement that Carr’s narrative confronts, unmasks, and exposes powerfully:

“I think we’ve done good work, but I don’t know that the numbers (test scores, attendance and graduation rates) will always reflect our good work because of the kids we take on,” said Laurie, referring to the fact that the school accepts some of the city’s most challenged and challenging students….“Walker’s a twenty-four-seven school. We believe we’ve got to find a way to give kids a safe place to be,” Laurie said. “And that’s not spoken for in these numbers.”

To this, we might add that Laurie’s concern about her charter school in the crucible of New Orleans education reform parallels the often-ignored problem at the center of universal public education in the U.S., a system designed to serve any and all students with equity regardless of background.

While Carr challenges education reform and the limits of good intentions among KIPP and TFA advocates, she also grounds her confrontations in a larger commitment: “At times, both KIPP’s staunchest supporters and its fiercest critics insult and demean the very families they purpose to protect by assuming they, and they alone, know what is best for other people’s children.”

Furthermore, by echoing educator Lisa Delpit’s recognition that many reforms ask less of “other people’s children” by narrowing their learning to worksheets and test-prep, Carr forces critics of KIPP and TFA to examine why many low-income minority parents not only choose no-excuses schools but also enthusiastically encourage no-excuses practices. No-excuses ideologies place an emphasis on authoritarian discipline and a culture of intense personal responsibility that includes teachers and students being held accountable for outcomes that critics warn are beyond the control of either. No-excuses advocates, including parents, embrace the exact paternalism critics challenge.

Carr offers a skeptical voice against education reform mirroring “disaster capitalism” in New Orleans, when markets generate profit from the “blank slate” of disasters (see The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalismby Naomi Klein). Yet, she offers nuanced praise when reformers succeed. For example, students are told at KIPP orientation a Cherokee legend about everyone embodying a good and bad wolf. That lesson gains a life of its own among students: “The fable’s power over their actions seemed to suggest that appealing to a person’s high self, no matter whether they are young teenagers or adults, carries more influence than rules or demerits ever could.”

In the middle of the book, Carr discusses Woodson Middle School, supplanted by a KIPP campus after FEMA declared the building irreparable because of Katrina. Woodson Middle had been named for Carter G. Woodson, author of The Mis-Education of the Negro in the 1930s. Woodson “represented an evolution, and radicalization, of W.E.B. Du Bois’s philosophy, which emphasized black empowerment through political rights and educational attainment”—a “philosophy…[that] stood in stark contrast to the view of contemporary school reformers” such as Michelle Rhee (TFA recruit, former chancellor of education in Washington DC, and founder of Students First), KIPP advocates, and TFA supporters.

Hope Against Hope is a cautionary tale about ideology—reformers honoring market forces over democratic values by stressing indirect reform through choice and competition instead of reforming directly public institutions when they fail to achieve equity—and the muted and ignored agency of people in their own lives.

As Carr acknowledges in the Prologue, her narrative details “competing visions for how to combat racial inequality in America,” but anyone seeking silver bullets, trite slogans, or popular assumptions will find “inside the schools, the war over education no longer seems so stark and clearly defined. Edges blur, shades of gray abound, and simple solutions prove elusive.” Like Kathleen Nolan confronting zero-tolerance policies in Police in the Hallways (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), Carr shows that simple solutions cannot remedy complex problems.

Where claims of “miracle” schools and no-excuses mantras stumble, Hope against Hope soars in its bittersweet humanity, the rich and uncomfortable tapestry of living and learning in poverty in twenty-first century America.

Carr’s Epilogue offers advice for reforming education reform: “If the schools want to succeed in the long run, the education they offer must become an extension of the will of the community—not as a result of its submission.”

To understand U.S. education and education reform, then, Carr’s story of New Orleans is an essential place to start.

What We Know Now (and How It Doesn’t Matter)

Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos (2006) explores the evolution and Intelligent Design (ID) debate that represents the newest attack on teaching evolution in U.S. public schools. The documentary is engaging, enlightening, and nearly too fair considering Olson admits upfront that he stands with scientists who support evolution as credible science and reject ID as something outside the realm of science.

Olson’s film, however, offers a powerful message that rises above the evolution debate. Particularly in the scenes depicting scientists discussing (during a poker game) why evolution remains a target of political and public interests, the documentary shows that evidence-based expertise often fails against clear and compelling messages (such as “teach the controversy”)—even when those clear and compelling messages are inaccurate.

In other words, ID advocacy has often won in the courts of political and public opinion despite having no credibility within the discipline it claims to inform—evolutionary biology.

With that sobering reality in mind, please identify what XYZ represents in the following statement about “What We Know Now”:

Is there a bottom line to all of this? If there is one, it would appear to be this: Despite media coverage, which has been exceedingly selective and misrepresentative, and despite the anecdotal meanderings of politicians, community members, educators, board members, parents, and students, XYZ have not been effective in achieving the outcomes they were assumed to aid….

This analysis is addressing school uniform policies, conducted by sociologist David L. Brunsma who examined evidence on school uniform effectiveness (did school uniform policies achieve stated goals of those policies) “from a variety of data gathered during eight years of rigorous research into this issue.”

This comprehensive analysis of research from Brunsma replicates the message in Flock of Dodos—political, public, and media messaging continues to trump evidence in the education reform debate. Making that reality more troubling is that a central element of No Child Left Behind was a call to usher in an era of scientifically based education research. As Sasha Zucker notes in a 2004 policy report for Pearson, “A significant aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the use of the phrase ‘scientifically based research’ well over 100 times throughout the text of the law.”

Brunsma’s conclusion about school uniform policies, I regret to note, is not an outlier in education reform but a typical representation of education reform policy. Let’s consider what we know now about the major education reform agendas currently impacting out schools:

Well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, then, education reform continues a failed tradition of honoring messaging over evidence. Neither the claims made about educational failures, nor the solutions for education reform policy today are supported by large bodies of compelling research.

As the fate of NCLB continues to be debated, the evidence shows not only that NCLB has failed its stated goals, but also that politicians, the media, and the public have failed to embrace the one element of the legislation that held the most promise—scientifically based research—suggesting that dodos may in fact not be extinct.

* Santelices, M. V., & Wilson, M. (2010, Spring). Unfair treatment? The case of Freedle, the SAT, and the standardization approach to differential item functioning. Harvard Educational Review, 80(1), 106-133.; Spelke, E. S. (2005, December). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? American Psychologist, 60(9), 950-958; See page 4 for 2012 SAT data: http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/research/TotalGroup-2012.pdf